Slopes Diaries is my ongoing journey to turn my indie app into a more sustainable part of my business. First time reading? Catch up on the journey so far.
What is Slopes? Think Nike+, Runkeeper, Strava, MapMyRun, etc for skiers and snowboarders.
If I want to make Slopes sustainable I at least need to understand the market a bit better to make some revenue estimates.
Potential Users vs Actual Users
What's my user base going to look like?
There were ~9.5 million skiers / boarders in the USA last winter  (couldn't find good international numbers, which is a shame because Slopes is only 59% domestic sales). I don't want to do the "if I can just get 1% of the market!" approach as it's much more complex than that. My friend Charles took the first step in modeling a more accurate picture by using the equation US skiers / boarders * percent of people who own smartphones * iPhone market share, arriving at 3mil potential Slopes users in the US. 
I think that's an OK spit-ball at a maximum potential user base, but I'm more interested in modeling a rough guess at my actual user base. There are behavioral aspects that will affect people translating from potential users to actual users. My take on an equation for that would go something more like this: skiers/boarders, that own an iOS device, that are willing to download an app, that are willing to take their $600 piece of hardware on the mountain with them, that even know I exist, that care enough to use my app.
I can affect how many people know I exist (ads), how much they care about using my app (features / marketing), and how many are willing to download my app to give it a try (free up front helps ), but some of those other behavioral patterns aren't going to change much.
I wanted some better numbers to gut-check. Fortunately I can look at other apps in my market to get a feel for this, as they have a similar venn diagram of requirements I do. Unfortunately I don't have App Store download figures, but I can look at my competitors on Android to get some guesses.
Time to pull some numbers out of my butt, a-la Apptopia .
The closest competitor (new business-model wise : free up-front w/ subscription) is currently listed in the Google Play Store as having 100k - 500k downloads, and launched on Android in winter 2012. Ok, so where in that very wide range might they be? Poking around the Internet Wayback Machine they were listed as having 100k - 500k in 2013 too, so that is at least 100k downloads over their first year. I'm going to guess they're around 300-400k in downloads on Android, which is probably a little over 100k a year.
The other main competitor I have is a $0.99 paid up front app. It's currently sitting at 100k - 500k installs on Google Play, but it didn't cross that threshold until sometime in the winter season of 2014/2015. They launched on Android in January of 2013 so I'd estimate they're looking at 50k installs a year. I'd expect them to have less downloads since paid up front is a barrier for downloads, especially on Android, so this lines up with what I'm seeing.
Based on some other app figures I'm privy to I'm willing to bet that, at least in the case of the free up front competitor, their numbers are 1.5x - 2.5x higher on iOS. I don't want to just double my numbers, I'd rather be conservative, but that at least lets me feel confident that these Android-based estimates are very very likely lower than their iOS numbers. I'm not over-estimating my downloads just because Android has a higher market share and therefore more downloads.
So I'm feeling ok estimating 50k - 100k users a year for Slopes.
(Again, I remind you of the butt-pulling here. I'm over-simplifying a lot of things here like marketing efforts, iOS vs Android, etc. But I've gotta start somewhere.)
I need about 700 subscribers at any given time to match my current revenue numbers per year.
It seems like even at a lower 1% conversion rate on 50k - 100k new users a year I'd be reasonable to estimate that I'd see ~700 new subscribers every year. So I'm likely not shooting myself in the foot and completely destroying my current revenue. I'll likely have a small reset this year as subscriptions ramp up, but I can get it back while building a better foundation going forward.
(That's where the beauty of recurring revenue comes in: each new subscription is money every year, not just for that first year. Over time that growth in recurring revenue stacks and starts to look like a business.)
But in the end this effort is about growing Slopes to be something I can focus my full-time efforts on. I'm hoping to get that conversion rate up to 6% or so over time, letting me switch focus away from consulting in the first year or two vs the five or six years it would take at 1%.
Of course I've got to get a lot of things right - marketing, upping that conversion rate, minimal churn. I'm not just going to magically get 50k - 100k users a year and a 1%+ conversion just by putting the thing out there.
This isn't Field of Dreams, and I'm no Kevin Costner.
Check out all the replies in this thread: https://twitter.com/drbarnard/status/659811216924106752. Small sample size, but in general the highest view -> download conversion is on free apps. ↩︎